The evolving world of consumer data: an interview with Clive Humby

By Sooraj Shah
15 Mar 2013 View Comments
A Sainsbury's supermarket in London Colney

Co-founder of dunnhumby, the company behind Tesco's Clubcard and other loyalty programmes around the world, Clive Humby gives his views on the consumer data landscape.

Further reading

Computing: We investigated whether Tesco would be able to use data to exploit consumers, is this a possibility?

Humby: There is the ‘Fair Data' initiative that the Market Research Society has launched, which I am a patron for. This is about using the data for mutual benefit and the way Tesco deals with that is that it has a Clubcard charter that details what it will or won't do with the data.

I think anything someone does with data that involves a consumer must be consent-led, and that's really what the ‘Fair Data' initiative is about and what having a charter is about. We really encourage companies to have a customer charter. Inevitably there will be grey areas, and in those grey areas companies might try or test things out, but if it's going to be big you have a duty to share that with consumers. As soon as you lose consumers' trust it is the worst thing for your business.

For example, banks have lost their consumer trust because as a loyal customer I get the worst interest rate, pay the highest prices, and get bombarded with irrelevant messages because their objective is to sell, not to build a relationship. Even the high net worth banks like Coutts are falling down this path. Banks are a living example of how not to use data.

Could companies like Tesco put these terms into the small print rather than make the terms clear to the consumer up front?

Small print is always a risk, the nice thing about Tesco's charter is that it's a single piece of A4 folded, and it's in big type that I can read without glasses. I think when you get 42 pages of fine print every time you want to buy something; we're not going to do it.

[The problem is] that most departments in organisations think about protection risk terms, not consumer engagement terms.

Can Tesco use the data of a customer who is buying four bottles of vodka and reflect this on the way they offer health insurance to that customer?

Tesco has said in its charter that it won't, and that it will respect your data and won't judge you. You may be buying the alcohol because you're actually a dodgy pub landlord and it's cheaper to buy vodka from Tesco's than a supplier. You've not necessarily got all of the context, it's not a retailer's job to be a policeman of good health. I don't think they have a duty to intervene.


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